War-torn countries fight to protect genetic variability of crops

Scientists and agricultural breeding specialists have developed a system to recover and restore rare but valuable crop varieties that might otherwise be lost forever to the ravages of war and heedless development. Called “smart aid,” the strategy involves searching out important genetic varieties — such as those able to withstand flood or extreme drought — and revitalizing those stocks to help replenish damaged farmland. “Restoring agriculture is usually the first step in creating economic growth and laying the foundations for durable peace,” says Ian Johnson, head of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Although the process has been successful in many countries, it may become more difficult as expanding international patent laws create a larger and more restrictive commercialized seed trade. The latest example of this can be seen in Iraq, where the U.S. implemented rules to prohibit the trade of patented seeds between Iraqi farmers. No word yet on whether that’s helping to win hearts and minds.